How-to: Afford Travel

Vasastan, Stockholm

Vasastan, Stockholm

Many people ask me, “How can you afford to travel?” The truth is I barely can. It involves a ton of planning, and usually months of savings. Every January I choose my destinations and travel dates for the rest of the year. Then I make a plan: tracking airfare prices, hotel deals, researching the exchange rate and how to make the most of my hard-earned dollars once I land there. I also start cutting back on eating-out and random purchases. The usual ways of saving. I’m not great at it, but I keep at it. Because regardless of the cost, I believe there’s a lot more we earn from travel than what we spend.

Swedish Institute, Stockholm

Swedish Institute, Stockholm

But I recently discovered a way to travel that allows you to learn more about your chosen destination in an affordable way, and grow your career along the way. I’m talking about grants and scholarships. Many governmental and nonprofit organizations around the world offer travel grants to foreign students and influencers to encourage international relations between nations and as a way of sharing their culture abroad. I used to think these grants were only available to students, but there are a few that are actually targeted to working adults, in order to help them develop their careers. One of the organizations offering these types of grants and scholarships is Svenska Institutet (SI).

“We have governmental grants that we provide to the countries of interest to Sweden, and that’s basically the whole world,” said Johanna Jeppsson, Deputy Head of Unit of Talent Mobility at SI.

The Swedish Institute, as it’s called in English, is an organization under Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that provides aid in two ways. One branch focuses on poverty reduction, providing scholarships to students in need who live in developing nations. The other branch focuses on promoting Sweden around the world, mostly concentrating on the U.S. and other western countries.

As an American citizen, I applied for a professional growth scholarship called the Bicentennial Swedish-American Exchange Fund. The goal of this particular fund is to give American citizens and permanent residents a chance to grow in their respective fields and contribute to the development of their societies with those learnings.  

“We are looking for what we call change makers,” said Jeppsson. “People that have an idea of how they would like to use the amount of money they receive from us, in order to change something or to create opinion.”

Johanna Jeppsson

Johanna Jeppsson

Each person selected for this scholarship is awarded up to SEK $30,000 to pay for a study visit to Sweden ranging between two- and four-weeks. At the end of the trip, scholarship holders are requested to submit a report to SI explaining what they learned and how they accomplished the goal originally stated in their proposal.

And don’t worry, you don’t have to be a social media influencer to get awarded. There are many ways in which your field can influence change in society. Those involved within public administration, the environment, politics, education and business can also benefit greatly from this type of study visit. Bringing back their knowledge and influencing their community.

“We had a person from the U.S. who came here to study our transportation system,” said Jeppsson as an example. “We also had a social worker from the U.S., who came here to study how we work with the refugees, in order for her to use these methods.”

The Bicentennial Fund is only one of the scholarships offered. In 2016, the Swedish Institute sponsored 1,707 people from all different walks of life.

Swedish Princess Cake and Smörgås lunch.

Swedish Princess Cake and Smörgås lunch.

For me, the visit to Sweden helped me define a more focused vision for my career, this website and my social media presence. It also allowed me to experience an incredible society and a culture that, while being very different from my own, it’s incredibly easy to fall in love with. Most importantly, it allowed me to share that beautiful culture with the world.

To learn more about the Swedish Institute, visit:

The Bicentennial Swedish-American Exchange Fund will be managed by the Sweden-American Foundation as of this year, for more information visit:



8 things to bring on a long-haul flight

In a few hours I’ll be hopping on a flight from NYC to Shanghai. It’s a 15 plus hour flight, the longest one I’ve ever been on. I feel like there should be a special name for these super long flights. Like sports have “extreme” versions, these long trips should be called “extreme flying” or something.

I’m really excited to be going to the other side of the world, but I’m also bracing for all those hours stuck in a plane. Here’s my list of what you should always bring on any flight longer than 8 hours:

1. Sleep gear
Sleeping is important, especially when you’re 30,000 feet above the ground. Neck pillows and eye masks may not be stylish, but they get the job done. I recommend a neck pillow with a button at the bottom to keep it in place no matter how much you move around. Some airlines are now offering free eye masks, but bring yours just in case.

2. Antibacterial Stuff
I’m not usually a germaphobe, but lock me in a flying machine and I get a little bit more concerned about those pesky little critters. I carry antibacterial wipes (Clorox are best) to clean up the tray tables. If you can’t find antibacterial wipes, alcohol pads (you can find them at any drugstore) work just fine. Also, use hand sanitizer or wash your hands before meals, you don’t want to get sick while on vacation.

3. Vitamin boost
Vitamins make a huge difference. I like Emergen-C because you can dissolve it in a bottle of water and it's super easy to drink. It will give your immune system a boost and you’ll feel more energized when you finally land.

4. Lip balm
Airplanes are dry, so I try to carry lip balm and hand lotion to keep my skin from getting rough and cracked while on the air.

5. Tech
Bring your own fancy headphones. I’m not particularly fond of the noise-cancelling ones, since I feel that my regular chunky ones work just as well. And if you’ll be watching a movie on your iPad, I love headphone jack splitters. They let you share the screen with your travel buddy and split the sound into two or more headsets.

6. Toiletries
Toothbrush, toothpaste, face wash, moisturizer. I also like to carry a Korean hydrating facial mask. Some of the other passengers may look at you funny, but your skin will super soft afterwards.  

7. Pen
Pens are useful, since you’ll probably have to fill out customs forms before landing. You can also doodle a few hours away.

8. Snacks
Like any other extreme sport, extreme flying (yeah, it’s a thing now!) requires hydration and nutrition. Buy a bottle of water right before you hop on the plane and bring a snack. While most airlines supply food, you can never be sure that you’ll like it. So, carrying a granola bar or some nuts is always a good idea. I also like to bring my own tea bags. They’ll definitely have hot water onboard, so you can skip the coffee and brew your favorite flavor.

Have any other tips for surviving a long flight? Share them in the comments!

How to Survive the Tourist Visa Application Process

Visas are hard. Loads of paperwork and hours of waiting may leave you with a bitter taste about your destination. So, what can you do to survive the process? Prepare. A lot. And when you think you’re done preparing, prepare a little more.

Even if you’re traveling with an American passport, which allows you to visit many countries without a tourist visa, there are still many others that require it. Brazil, China, India, Vietnam, and Australia to name a few.

The process itself varies greatly from one country to another, but there are a few steps that have helped me get through it in one piece.

1 - Download the application from the web.
My first instinct is usually to wait until arriving at the Consulate or Embassy to find and fill out the forms. Instead, the thing to do is go online. Most Consulates have the applications on their websites. Download, fill it out and print. It will save you tons of time. And help you with step #2.

2 - Read the instructions. Then read them again.
This may seem straightforward, but visa forms can be very specific as to how you should fill them out. One time I was turned away from a Consulate after hours of waiting in line outside because the application had to be typed and I filled it out by hand. I had to come back the next day. There is no arguing when the instructions specifically dictate it on the top of the page. So read them.

3 - Make copies of everything.
Keeping a copy of all the paperwork is always a good idea. It’s also good to leave a copy at home or with a friend while you’re away, in case your passport gets lost or stolen.

4 - Verify the accepted forms of payment.
Visas are not cheap and the fees may vary depending on your nationality. Check on the Consulate/Embassy’s website how much and how to pay. You may be allowed to pay with your card or you may need to bring a check.

5 - Meditate. Bring a book. Breath.
There’s always a lot of waiting involved and there’s no way around it. So be ready. Bring a good book. Better yet, bring a travel guide and start daydreaming about your awesome vacation. You’re halfway there.

Do you have any useful tips? Share them in the comment section.